By Tina Swanson, Vice President of Customer Experience and Account Management
It’s no secret a lot of people work in or have worked in the restaurant industry but did you know that 1 in 3 Americans got their first job experience in a restaurant and half of all adults have worked in the restaurant industry at some point during their lives? Do the math and that’s a lot of teenagers working in the back-of-house. Teenagers make up a large portion of the restaurant industry workforce and they also suffer a disproportionate share of injuries, especially in their first year on the job. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) estimates emergency rooms treated approximately 44,800 injuries suffered by teenage restaurant workers and half of these injuries involved hot oil; and wet or greasy floors caused more than half of the injuries from falls.
There are many areas of safety concerns in the back-of-house but teens working in restaurant kitchens are six times more likely to be burned than teens working in any other industry. That is a staggering statistic – why are teens who work as fry cooks at such special risk for burn injuries? Factors such as inexperience and the pressure to "keep up" during busy periods can lead to potential accidents. Other hazards include exposure to hot oil, grease, and steam from hot surfaces, hot food and beverages, and equipment such as stoves, grills, steamers, and fryers. According to OSHA, fryers are the number one cause of burns in teens specifically while cooking or cleaning the vats and hood vents above the fryer.
Slips, trips and falls are another potential injury for teen workers. Slips, trips, and falls can occur in the cooking area, from cluttered, slippery floors with oil, water, or food on them. It is particularly hazardous in this area because teens may fall into or onto hot surfaces or liquids. 30% of slips and falls are caused by grease on the floor, and 23% of these accidents happen near the fryer vat. These types of injuries as well as strains and sprains can be the most serious and expensive types of accidents due to the long rehabilitation period that is often needed. These injuries can happen easily – an employee might simply turn the wrong way, overextend when reaching for something, or struggle to lift a heavy jug of fryer oil without having adequate room to maneuver. Improper lifting can lead to a severe back injury – costing well over $100,000 in cases where surgery and long-term physical therapy are required.
The most effective way to avoid costly medical and legal claims and keep your teen workforce safe is to prevent accidents in the first place. Here are some specific areas to pay special attention to:
- Have protective clothing and equipment ready and available
- Train employees on how to use the equipment and personal protective equipment properly and safety
- Make sure training manuals are translated for those employees who are not fluent in English
- Provide sturdy slip resistant footwear that also protects the feet in case hot liquids are spilled onto shoes
- Use a closed-loop oil management system to reduce employee exposure to hot oil
- Maintain high standards of cleanliness
- Have a first aid kit handy and know when an employee needs to seek medical attention
- Provide warning signs for wet floor areas
- Use non-slip matting on floor surfaces
For more information on how to prevent costly restaurant injuries, download our Kitchen Safety 101 Whitepaper.
Tina Swanson is Vice President of Customer Experience and Account Management at Restaurant Technologies. She has worked for nearly 20 years in human resources, sales, marketing and Six Sigma. Swanson spent many years at General Electric Co. and Ceridian Corp. prior to joining Restaurant Technologies in 2012.